A week ago last Wednesday, my husband and I flew home from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon days ahead of schedule. A nasty bout of food poisoning had rendered my husband unfit for the rigors of the hiking we had planned to do. Add to that the hospitalization of our dog, who, in apparent sympathy with the favorite of her two owners, had developed pancreatitis, and curtailing our vacation seemed appropriate.
Late in the day, as we waited in the Atlanta airport for our delayed flight, a young man in Army camouflage, who looked hardly older than our 15-year-old grandson, took a seat among the other passengers at our gate.
When we finally boarded our flight, we were seated nearer the front of the plane than the young soldier, so once we disembarked and walked into the waiting area at the Roanoke airport, we were greeted by the sight of the soldier’s family and friends smiling joyously and holding up signs to welcome him home.
What a different experience this young soldier’s family and friends in Virginia had on that day than that of another young soldier’s family in Kansas. No doubt his family and friends had planned a celebration, too.
But the day before, while on his way home from Afghanistan, the other young soldier – a Marine – and his buddy had stopped to do some sightseeing at the Grand Canyon. Not long after we spent our last few hours in Grand Canyon village buying souvenirs and photographing a California Condor who posed just for the benefit of tourists it seemed, a few miles down the road at one of the Canyon overlooks, this young Marine slipped and ultimately fell to his death.
So while one family in Virginia was celebrating the homecoming of their young soldier, a family in Kansas was grieving the news that their equally young Marine would never be coming home, at least not in the way they had expected.
So why do such things happen? Even for Christians, that’s a tough question.
It’s tempting to think that maybe God favored one soldier – or one soldier’s family – more than the other. But we know nothing about each soldier’s respective spiritual state. And, in any case, Jesus warns against assuming that victims of tragic accidents are any greater sinners than anyone else. “Do you suppose,” he tells his listeners, “that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem?” (Luke 13:4, NASB).
Christians do, however, have one consolation that others do not. We know that however tragic and senseless this young man’s death seems to us, God is working in this situation to bring about His Kingdom. We have hope that life has meaning and purpose and that ultimately we’ll see that purpose more clearly than we do now.
Atheists, on the other hand, have no way to make sense of such events. The problem of evil, both natural and human-generated, it seems to me, is more theirs than ours. Christians may not have all the answers now, but we have confidence that the answers exist. However hard it is sometimes to live without the answers and to quell the doubts that consequently assail us, to live in the answerless world of the atheist would be infinitely harder.